Meet the Street Socceroos

1 August 2019 Amy Hetherington

Meet the Street Socceroos

A few years ago, Joel was sleeping rough on the streets of Brisbane. Now he’s representing Australia on the international stage, competing in one of the world’s most inspirational sporting events: the 17th annual Homeless World Cup in Cardiff, Wales.

Joel is proudly donning the green and gold alongside Nik, Tina, Stevie, Sayed, Peter, Ferass and goalie Corey in a week-long football festival that sees 500 players with lived experience of homelessness and social exclusion, representing 50 nations.

“They are a special group of people for sure, the type of people you want representing your country,” says National Street Soccer Coach George Halkias. “Many have had some tough cards dealt to them, but they have never given up. Most importantly, they are great team players on and off the pitch. I cannot help but be inspired by their courage and determination.”

They are our Street Socceroos, and you can read their stories in the latest Big Issue. These team-mates were shortlisted from hundreds of players involved in The Big Issue’s Street Soccer Program that runs in 17 locations around Australia. “They have already shown outstanding commitment,” says George. “Homeless World Cup can be a further boost to their self-confidence…they’ll learn so much about themselves and the world, and come back stronger than ever.”

Aged from 22 to 55, they are a diverse bunch, and their experience of homelessness is connected to a range of issues such as family breakdown, mental illness, addiction, disability and dislocation. All now have a home, and this tournament further shows the world what these players can do when they’re given opportunity and support.

“Most people would understand that football, like any sport, can have a huge impact on mental and physical health,” says George. “But most importantly it offers a critical sense of purpose, belonging and connectedness. It feeds the players’ self-confidence and self-worth!”
The tournament also places a spotlight on the global issues of homelessness and social inequality, with Habitat for Humanity estimating that 1.6 billion people lack adequate housing – which many consider a fundamental human right.

For Joel, Street Soccer has changed his life. “It’s given me a sense of responsibility and accountability and it’s given me a sense of connectedness that was missing from my life.
“Through staying clean, I saved up enough to put down a bond on a unit for myself, and I recently graduated as a qualified holistic counsellor. Now I’m looking to help others.”

Amy Hetherington, Editor